Since 2014 BJP has been spreading the electoral base. After Gujarat, Municipal election results in Maharashtra and Chandigarh indicate the same trend
The influence Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis wield over the public psyche has become evident once more, with the masses in Maharashtra conclusively expressing their support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But it will have to face some serious challenges in the days to come as caste lines are becoming more pronounced in the state.
Landslide Victory for BJP-SAD in Chandigarh
Ruling BJP and Akali Dal in Punjab have scored a landslide victory in municipal elections in capital Chandigarh. The victory comes just ahead of crucial state assembly polls. The allies have won 21 of the 26 seats, while the Congress settled for just four.
Almost a pariah electorally just a decade ago in Western Maharashtra, the BJP registered major victories in Kolhapur, Solapur and Pune districts. This belt, from Pune to Solapur, was once upon a time considered to be a fiefdom of Nationalist Congress party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar. The Congress, too, had a strong base in the area. However, the fresh Municipal Council elections have indicated that the BJP has succeeded in creating its own niche position here.
Predictions by doomsday sayers have once again become a laughing stock since many of them were thumping their chests to take bets on the BJP’s drubbing on account of the Modi Government’s decision to demonetise high-denomination currency notes. The voters in Tier—II and Tier—III cities have shown that the move hasn’t cut into the BJP’s support base in Maharashtra as the party has recorded substantial success in the second phase of Municipal Council elections, soon after its excellent performance in the first phase.
Out of 14 towns which went to the polls in the second phase, BJP emerged as the largest gainer as it bagged posts of Municipal Presidents in five. The party emerged victorious in 52 Municipal Councils in the first phase. In the second phase, the outcome in the 14 councils and the 324 seats located in Pune and Latur districts has shown the BJP’s increasing dominance.
The NCP has managed to retain the prestigious Baramati Municipal Council as the town is identified with Sharad Pawar. It has once again shown its solid loyalty to him. However, overall, NCP has fared not so well, endorsing the impression that its mass base is eroding.
The Congress party made tepid efforts to retain its support base, although some major cracks into its
traditional strongholds are showing. The party’s defeat in Latur district came as a major jolt since it was considered to be the stronghold of former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. The BJP won two President posts in Latur — at Nilanga and Udgir. The NCP won at the Ausa Municipal Council.
Similarly, Congress party won maximum number of civic seats in Karad in Satara district but the post of the Civic President went to the BJP. Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan hails from Karad and tried his best to oust the BJP from the electoral race, but failed to achieve the desired objective. Incidentally, this is the first time the BJP has been able to make inroads in the district.
However, it is not a bed of roses for BJP all the way since the results have shown that it will have to work
tirelessly and convince the people that it wishes to fulfill its promises and that it will deliver on the assurances announced during the Parliament and Assembly elections. Fortunately for Fadnavis, the bountiful monsoon this year tilted the situation in favour of BJP since the chronic challenge of facing a drought situation was not a major issue in the municipal elections.
But BJP leadership will have to reckon that though it has won maximum number of Council President posts, its performance on the number of council members does not present an impressive picture.
The other chink in the Maharashtra BJP’s armour is that it has few influential speakers, except for Fadnavis. This stark fact was highlighted by the defeat of the BJP in the Jalna municipal council since it is the place to which state BJP president Raosaheb Danve belongs. Other
so-called ambitious leaders also have fared badly in their own backyard. Thus, the overall victory for the BJP comes as a boost for Fadnavis, who has already earned praise from the party leadership for winning the first phase of polls, which took place after the Centre’s demonetisation decision. In the first phase, the BJP won 51 out of 147 Municipal councils. Fadnavis had personally planned the election management in the second phase, too. In view of this scenario, it will be
desirable for the Maharashtra BJP to mould good campaigners and public speakers, party workers feel.
The worst loser in the battle was Shiv Sena. It could win the president’s post in only one town, Junnar, in Pune district in the second phase. It is the fourth in terms of the total seats won by the four major parties. Sena’s
disappointing performance and NCP’s success in some areas will force the ruling alliance to consider if the two parties should be together for the forthcoming civic elections.
For Fadnavis, performing similarly well in elections to major civic bodies such as Mumbai, Pune and Nashik as well as Zilla Parishads (ZPs), which play significant role in rural politics, will be vital. The outcome in these major civic bodies and ZPs will chart the strategy for the 2019 Assembly polls. Not only for Congress and NCP but for all the parties in Maharashtra, a worrying factor is the modestly good performance of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which has made some gains in certain pockets. The party’s win in Marathwada region needs to cause concern as it has played on minority sentiments. It is said that Congress party lost Udgir election and beneficiary was BJP since the AIMIM received considerable response among the minorities and the division was at the cost of Congress.
A region-wise analysis broadly shows that BJP dominates North Maharashtra and Vidarbha regions while Shiv Sena has been able to retain its influence in Konkan. In Western Maharashtra and Marathwada regions, Congress and NCP are still dominant forces. But BJP’s gains in these parts can be ignored by them only at their own peril.
The huge marches taken out to press the demand for reservations for the Maratha caste have impacted the
outcome of the municipal elections in all parts of Maharashtra. The marches caused polarisation of support by
non-Maratha population, according to some observers. They say that Fadnavis made a smart move when he announced his decision to extend educational
concessions to all students whose
annual family incomes were not over Rs 6 lakh. This decision has blunted the intensity of the Maratha caste marches since a large number of students belonging to this dominant caste are going to benefit, just like those in the lower strata of social hierarchy.
The OBCs and Dalits have repeatedly warned the government not to touch their quota status in the
reservations. The state government has filed a comprehensive affidavit in the high court to support the demand for reservations by the Maratha caste. But the future course of politics will be now determined by the judiciary, in a manner of speaking, since the
reservation quota can’t exceed 50 per cent owing to a Supreme Court judgment. The Maharashtra Government will have to convince the judiciary about the legality of its stand against this complex backdrop.
Whatever the outcome, it will have a major impact on the 2019 Parliamentary and Assembly elections across Maharashtra.
(The writer is a Senior Journalist)